Today, our nation again stands on the precipice of a significant movement for racial equity that calls to Unitarian Universalists to respond as people of faith anchored in the affirmation of the inherent worth and dignity of every person.We – five women of color who serve our Unitarian Universalist faith through the UUA – write this letter to express our hopes for the participation of Unitarian Universalists with regard to a Sankofa moment presented to us by the 50th anniversary commemoration of Selma.
For the Unitarian Universalists coming to Selma, we hope that you understand your presence as a call to solidarity with the Selma community. For Unitarian Universalists who are unable to be in Selma, our hope is that you will use Selma Sunday (March 8, 2015) as an opportunity to observe this anniversary with worship, reflection, and witness.
Sankofa, an Asante proverb symbolized by a bird facing body forward and head looking back, means “go back and fetch it.” It expresses the wisdom of bringing forward from the past that which is useful to the present.
Selma is a continuing story of Unitarian Universalists answering when called, playing a supporting role in a non-violent, yet powerful and unapologetic agitation for justice. Viola Liuzzo and James Reeb not only sacrificed their lives to the Black Civil Rights Movement, they, and the other Unitarian Universalists who committed themselves to the Movement, are examples of how to respond to the call for justice, how to show up faithfully, how to live UU faith and values, and most importantly, how to follow the leadership of communities of color confronting injustice.
The response of Unitarian Universalists to the call of Black Civil Rights leaders is a major reason why the organizers of the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights March from Selma to Montgomery invited Unitarian Universalists to participate in the commemoration that, like that original march, is both local and national in significance.
The Selma Anniversary offers Unitarian Universalists one opportunity to strengthen our commitment to the vision and values of the Civil Rights Movement that continue to compel us to engage in today’s struggles against injustice, such as #BlackLivesMatter, the New Jim Crow, and the fusion justice coalition called Forward Together. Sankofa: we go back, with the knowing that we will keep bringing forward the wisdom of the past to help us be agents of transformation right now.
We bring forward the wisdom of what solidarity looks like to help us stand together with people living in Selma today and with communities across the United States where police brutality, escalating economic inequality, mass incarceration, voter disenfranchisement, and environmental degradation signal, as Michelle Alexander lifts up in February’s Essence magazine, “that some people’s lives don’t matter.” Selma can remind us of how to follow the lead of communities who most experience the pains of injustice, how to play the supporting role, how to have candid dialogue about racism which continues to destroy lives and communities – physically and spiritually. Selma can also teach us how to keep our “eyes on the prize” and not let our disagreements turn us into enemies.
For our presence in Selma is not without context or connection to the ongoing injustices of today. We once again stand on the precipice of a significant movement for racial equity. This moment, this movement, calls to us to respond as people of faith anchored in the affirmation of the inherent worth and dignity of every person – to include the most marginalized and oppressed locally and globally. Our commitment is to solidarity, to show up when called, to be bridge builders for an equitable society. As Unitarian Universalists, we commit to saying “yes” because we realize that there is still so much work to be done. There is still so much non-violent agitation required to disrupt the foundations of white supremacy. There is still so much witness to bear and ours is the task of being in solidarity with as well as tending to the communities of which we are a part. People of Color in our communities, whose daily burdens are made heavier by a system that does not believe #BlackLivesMatter, look to our communities of faith for the spiritual sustenance needed to thrive. Hence, the struggle to lift the burdens of racism is not solely political: it is sacred, life-saving work necessary to heal the souls of us all.
Please be reminded that you don’t have to be in Selma to seize this opportunity for movement building. There are Selma Sunday (March 8, 2015) resources for Unitarian Universalists to observe this anniversary with worship, reflection, and witness wherever you may be.
We look back on this faith’s long tradition of working for racial justice. Our greatest hope is that all Unitarian Universalists will use the Selma 50th anniversary to bring forward a renewed commitment to anti-racist/multicultural movement building, calling people of faith and conscience in our own time.
Taquiena Boston, Director, Multicultural Growth and Witness
Rev. Alicia Roxanne Forde, Professional Development Director, Ministry and Faith Development
Dr. Janice Marie Johnson, Multicultural Ministries and Leadership Director, Multicultural Growth and Witness
Elizabeth Ann Terry, Donor Relations Specialist, Stewardship and Development
Jessica York, Faith Development Director, Ministry and Faith Development